Washington Activists Celebrate Defeat of Coal's Plan to Export
Big Coal is feeling the heat in the Pacific Northwest.
RailAmerica threw in the towel last week, ditching plans to send coal -- as much as 5 million tons annually -- through Grays Harbor, Washington, for shipping overseas.
The proposal was part of an onslaught of export projects Big Coal is trying to push through in Washington and Oregon, which would extract an unthinkable amount of coal from Wyoming's Great Basin, send it to the coast by train, and ultimately ship it to East Asia.
Coal companies, thinking this plan was easy money, didn't anticipate the type of passionate opposition it now faces. It seems like everyone agrees with the Sierra Club: coal trains are not welcome here.
"I've never seen a campaign like this," says Robin Everett of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "The level of engagement across every community is unbelievable. The left, the right. Farmers, doctors, and small business owners. All kinds of cities."
RailAmerica's proposal was small compared to the five other proposed ports and routes that would transport tens of millions of tons of coal each year.
The defeat of RailAmerica shows that the grassroots campaign is working. Coal companies had assumed they would be well on their way to exporting coal without much hassle.
"They thought these proposals would be signed, sealed, and delivered," Robin says.
All across the state, civic leaders have realized the consequences of letting coal trains through: more coal dust that causes asthma and respiratory problems; dozens of mile-long trains that'd hold up traffic and emergency vehicles; risk of derailment; and an enormous climate impact.
"Exporting all this coal to Asia -- it's more carbon than Keystone. That's how big this is," says Robin.
The next focus is Peabody Coal, which wants to export 48 million tons through Cherry Point, Washington, each year. Sierra Club supporters and allies, cities, and business leaders are already mobilizing for upcoming public meetings, which will influence the fate of Peabody's massive project. But with the defeat of RailAmerca, Big Coal's scheme appears even more vulnerable.
"RailAmerica's proposal died because when you start to weigh risks versus benefits, coal exports just does not pan out. There is strong opposition to exporting coal through this region and coal companies need to be prepared for a long fight."
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